Traveling with breast milk is not one of the highlights of motherhood. There are all those extra things you have to carry, from the pump bag to the liquid gold itself. Then, there are the logistics of keeping your milk fresh so you can feed your baby when you return from your travels. At times it can defeat the purpose of a leisurely trip, because the work required after pumped milk can be so exhausting. All of these details about pumping are things I'm glad I didn't know about traveling with breast milk before I actually had to, you know, travel with breast milk. I'm not sure I would have followed through if I'd known so much beforehand.
I took a few trips without each of my babies when I was pumping, so I became quite the expert at traveling and pumping and storing milk while I was away. It took some missteps and a few instances of what can only be described as "learning the hard way" to realize that the world does not exist to support and assist the breastfeeding mother (the nerve, you guys). Some hotels do not have refrigerators in their buildings that one can even have access to via a hotel worker, so bye bye breast milk. Some airports in America frown upon pumping out in the open (even with a nursing cover) and strongly insist that you do so in the "family restroom." Sadly, that's a true story.
I eventually learned that my pumping essentials absolutely had to include ice packs and an IDGAF attitude. Both served me well. However, before I became an A plus pumping traveler, there was a lot I did not know, including (but certainly not limited to) the following:
That It Would Require An Actual Cooler
I've always associated coolers with fun and carefree things, like elementary school field trips, picnics, or trips to the Jersey Shore. Storing liquids that have come out of my body to use at a later time was never on the list of uses for a cooler. I don't know why, but it took me by complete surprise when I was traveling for the first time without my baby and needed to store pumped milk while en route. I realized that I definitely needed a cooler to do so.
That I Would Need So Many Accessories
I am not what you would call a "light traveler." Before all the TSA regulations requiring that all carry-on liquids fit in a quart-size Ziplock bag, I used to have an entire carry-on devoted to my toiletries. I've since made my personal items a lot more compact, but there is no downsizing when it comes to the enormous load of crap required to pump and store breastmilk while traveling.
On the most basic level, you need the special pumping bra, the pump itself, the pumping valves and extra batteries, the tubes to pump into, plastic bags to store the milk, hand sanitizer, and a nursing cover (if you choose to use one). If you're like me, you'll probably bring extra of everything, plus hand lotion and nipple cream, and an extra bra just in case. It's like carrying your whole life, if your life was all about pumping milk. Oh, wait. It is.
That I Would Have To Make Embarrassing Requests Of Other People
My first trip away from my first baby was with a friend of mine to a bed and breakfast a few hours away. I had just wanted one night of uninterrupted sleep and some extended girl time. The bed and breakfast was one of those tiny places with no more than four guest rooms, so I don't know why I expected there to be a mini fridge in my room, or even space to dry all 50 of my pump parts. My cooler had done a great job keeping everything chill for the milk I had pumped during our pit stops on the ride over, but I needed a place to store the milk until we had planned to leave the next day.
I called the front desk and, after some confusion, they sent a cute young guy in his early 20s with a cup of milk to our room. "No, that's not what I meant at all," I explained. I told him that I was a new mom and I was pumping breast milk for my baby and needed a fridge to store it in until we left, and he got beet red and practically ran down the hall, spilling the aforementioned glass of milk everywhere.
That There'd Be All Those Plastic Bags
It is fine to store milk into the plastic or glass bottles for the short-term, but for long term storage in a freezer, especially when traveling, the plastic bags are definitely the way to go. I had had no idea how much my life was about to be ruled by those plastic bags when I began my pumping journey.
The thing about pumping bags? Yeah, they're super thin and slippery, and easily escape the rest of their brethren and turn up in strange places around the house. I felt like everywhere I looked in my home a plastic bag would suddenly appear. I'd be on the couch enjoying my Netflix and all of a sudden there'd be a plastic pump bag just staring at me.
That Sharpies Would Become So Important
If I didn't have a Sharpie, there was no way I was going to be able to label my latest pumping output. It may as well have never even happened. I had to make sure to have a Sharpie in every bag and jacket pocket so, when traveling, I would never be caught without something to label my breast milk with the date and the number of ounces. Without that Sharpie it would have been mayhem, I tell you! Mayhem!
That TSA Would Handle My Breast Milk With So Much Disregard
Even though I knew it was just standard procedure, I couldn't help but be offended every time TSA took my sweet little bottle of breast milk and submitted it to a series of tests like it was a toxic substance that could blow up a plane. I mean, yes, it is possible that someone could disguise drugs or something else horrible as a bottle of innocent breast milk. But when it is your beautiful, lovingly pumped bottle of breast milk, you can't help but think, "Really? Is that really necessary, dude?"
That Sour Milk Smell On My Breast Pump Bag
Always, always, always, no matter what I did or how many times I washed the contents of my bag or the bag itself, my bag maintained its funky sour milk smell. This may have been the thing that turned me off the most about traveling with pumped milk, because wherever I went that smell followed.